46. Eroding Waters
"Rise for the King!"
A flurry of robes and chairs followed the herald´s chant as Ar-Inziladûn crossed the threshold of the Council Chamber. At a brisk pace, so unlike his father´s majestic stride that he almost could feel the shock thicken into an invisible wall around him, he walked towards the high chair at the head of the table. Standing in that spot, he commanded a view of the place and everybody in it, and for a moment he paused to look at them as one would study a map before engaging in battle. For this was also a map, a map of Númenor where seating combinations traced borders and roads, joining fawaray lands or dividing neighbours by rival interests, old grudges or opposed loyalties.
Zakarbal of Soronthil sat on the right side, together with his adoptive son. Next to them was the young man´s birth father, Shemer of Hyarnustar, talking to his brother, the halfwit whose immoderate feasting had acquired quite a reputation in Armenelos. The Northeastern lord, on his part, had come with his own assistant, a powdered man whom Inziladûn did not know. All six of them, councilmen and their people, had risen as one the moment that the King´s entrance had been announced.
At the other side of the table, meanwhile, a different cluster of people had been gathering. Sitting closest to him was Bodashtart, Itashtart´s sucessor as High Priest of the Forbidden Bay and governor of the Northwest. At his right were Hannon the Palace Priest and the High Chamberlain, who, together with their own assistants, had been laughing at a remark he had made when Inziladûn came in through the door. Even further behind them was Gimilkhâd, surrounded by the largest throng of people in the room. They made a colourful array, with Gimilkhâd´s purple and jewels, the merchants´s gaudy outfits and the ostentatious leopard mantle worn by the governor of Sor, a short and broad man who had left the largest and proudest retinue at the Audience Chamber below. Ithobal, Gimilkhâd´s foster-brother, curved his painted lips into a smile as one of the merchants leaned to whisper a word in his ear. The merchant´s forehead was glistening with sweat from the early summer heat, and Inziladûn caught a glimmer of gold in it before he turned his attention towards the only man who had remained seated.
The High Priest of Melkor was an old man, and yet years seemed to hang from his shoulders like the purple cloak, an ornament for his majesty. He alone among all the councilmen could remain seated when the others had to stand: the highest servant of the God King bowed to no one. When Inziladûn gazed into his eyes he looked back at him, defying the new Númenórean ruler in silence. This one knew very well the perils that would assail his position with this King upon the throne, and meant to show his determination to fight for the privileges accorded by Ar-Adunakhôr.
Inziladûn, however, had the measure of him in one glance. In spite of the appearances, the man was a coward at heart, and if there was a confrontation he would prefer to stay away from it, using others as his weapons. He had done it with Gimilzôr, with whom he had clashed often, because of the late King´s repeated attempts to take over his religious functions.
Taking his eyes off him, Inziladûn let them trail over the man who stood at his side. As he did so, he perceived the scorching heat of power, flashing before his eyes for a brief second. Then, the man frowned, and the King felt pulled away by an invisible force. Surprised, he suppressed the urge to reel back. He had been rejected, not with words or commands but by the sheer force of that man´s will.
This was the weapon. Yehimelkor, the descendant of Alashiya. Yehimelkor the kinsman of Melkorbazer, Inziladûn´s external grandfather. Yehimelkor, who had saved the child Amandil even when all of Inziladûn´s complicated ploys seemed doomed to fail in the end, baffled by a boy´s stubbornness.
It was an irony that a man who had so many reasons to be his ally would be standing beside the lord of the dark temple, battling him with his glance. But Yehimelkor´s devotion to Melkor was like a mithril armour with no cracks, and so it remained long after the son of the Faithful had come and gone from his life. Now, he served the High Priest loyally, but one day, not very far ahead, he would be High Priest himself. And that day, the King would find a bitter enemy in this priest of the deep eyes and sharp-lined face.
Taking a sharp breath, Inziladûn sat down. Everybody promptly followed his example, the twelve councilmen in their silver chairs and their twelve assistants behind them. It was the first time that the Council gathered since the death of Ar-Gimilzôr three months earlier, and it was a moment for testing pulses and gauging intentions. Tension was in the air as they looked at him, waiting for his speech.
"I welcome you, friends, to this Council", he spoke in a clear, ringing voice that echoed across the hundred columns of the chamber. "Our mourning is not over, and yet it is time to put grief away for a while and set our minds to matters of state."
Gimilkhâd arched a painted eyebrow in a vaguely incredulous gesture, but nobody challenged his words. Inziladûn knew that the gossip concerning his relationship with his father had not died with Gimilzôr, and yet the new king was determined to kill it as soon as possible.
"I will now hear what you have to say", he continued, looking towards his brother-in-law Zakarbal. He was head of the landholders by virtue of his older ancestry and his kinship with him, and traditionally the landholders had spoken first. From the times when he had taken the role of his father´s secretary, however, he knew that this custom had been disregarded. This went unchallenged as well, though he could perceive a hint of growing wariness in the looks of some.
Zakarbal did not hesitate.
"I ask for your leave to marry my heir to the Lady Senna, daughter of the Palace Priest." He gave a well-rehearsed nod of acknowledgement in Hannon´s direction, which the fat courtier reciprocated with a simpering smile. The tension was eased, except in the eyes of Gimilkhâd and the merchants that surrounded him. They had not expected that.
"The Lord Hannon is my beloved childhood teacher, a revered priest and a member of this Council." Inziladûn replied. "Your request is granted, and I will attend to the wedding myself, as soon as all the steps of mourning are duly achieved."
"I am humbled by your kindness!" Hannon bowed, as much as his age and the enormous bulk of fat that covered his body allowed him. His usually shrewd look did not show any sharp edges today; he knew that he was part of a small theatre play but did not mind at all. He had been waiting for this day for too long.
Other requests and concerns followed Zakarbal´s, many more than what Inziladûn remembered from his father´s council sessions. He could recognize most of them for what they were: mere pretexts to test him, to see how would he react to their petitions and whom would he favour or deny. Like a soldier in battle, he stood ready for each of them, parrying and deflecting the points of their poisoned swords as they came. He delayed a request for harbour repair funds from the governor of Sor, then rejected a plea from Hyarnustar for lower taxes on their wine. The representative from the Merchant Princes of Umbar was given more troops to face the growing unrest on the land of Harad, and Inziladûn asked the Gadir representative if they needed help as well.
The gold-skinned man whom he had seen sweating at the beginning of the session, who sat beside Gimilkhâd in an outfit of green and deep violet, assuaged his concerns with an amiable smile that did not reach his eyes. He had been the associate and nephew of the infamous Magon, and now had taken his place at the Council.
"We are not a warring people. We conduct our trade peacefully and keep a good relationship with the mainland. If they see too many soldiers they might start mistrusting our intentions, and that would be bad for business."
"And yet I have heard of fighting in the Bay of Gadir. My own brother´s son" he sought Gimilkhâd´s glance briefly, "is there now, is he not?"
"He is paying a visit to his mother´s family." Magon´s nephew replied. He was still smiling, and yet Inziladûn noticed that he had spoken before Gimilkhâd could have the chance to do so. "Being a young and sucessful general, however, he conducted some skirmishes against the armies of Mordor on his way to the Bay. Seen from the Island, Middle-Earth seems to shrink, but it is a vast land, my lord king."
Inziladûn felt vaguely insulted by his condescendence, which seemed to imply that he could not read a map. But this was not important now, a mere distraction to blind him to the main point. That man did not want to admit that they had problems, or that they needed help from the Sceptre, and he wondered why.
"Still, we do live in evil times, my lord King, "the governor of Sor nodded sententiously. "Our colonies are assailed repeatedly by the Enemy and his allies, and though we work night and day we barely manage to provide ships for our soldiers to cross the Sea."
Inziladûn was tempted to arch an eyebrow at this grim assessment, since the man had been pressuring for funds. It was much easier to deal with those who asked for things than with those who refused them, as his old teacher had taught to him. And yet, the opening that he provided was useful.
"I have been concerned about that. We must have done something to anger the gods, if they would bring all these hardships on us."
"And what could that be, my lord King?"
The one who spoke had been Bodashtart, the priest and governor of the Forbidden Bay, but Inziladûn could feel the weight of other, unvoiced questions, darted at him from the depths of many eyes. For a moment, he had the unpleasant feeling that Yehimelkor was reading his thoughts like he would an open book, anticipating his moves. He discarded it almost at once: Yehimelkor was but an embodiment of his own fears, those that had roamed his mind at unguarded hours before his time came.
He took breath.
"We worship our gods, honour their festivities and offer them magnificent temples and sacrifices. But meanwhile, we have neglected Him who is father to them all, Eru who shaped the world. He does not like temples, statues or offerings, and yet He has known worship in our kingdom in the past."
"Three times a year there used to be a procession to the highest peak of the Meneltarma", old Hannon chimed in in a slow, wheezy voice. Zakarbal nodded at once.
"I remember that tale from my ancestors. Could the growing of the Shadow in Middle-Earth be the result of our neglect of this custom?"
The High Priest of Melkor had been exchanging glances with the man who stood at his side, but now he turned towards Inziladûn and the Council.
"It is the lore of the Four Temples that neglect was not at the root of the end of the Three Great Processions," he said. "It was the blindness of the worshippers. They started making images of Eru and offering sacrifices, until the Holiest Days were besmeared with sacrilege. It was then that the King decided to put an end to them."
"I have heard that, too", Bodashtart chimed in. "To each his due. Men feast upon the creatures that tread the earth and sea, gods feast upon the fumes of the sacrifices, but neither meat nor fume can reach the High Heaven."
"But this was not the original custom" Lord Shemer argued. "The custom was corrupted by Men, who were themselves corrupted."
"And this corruption is at the root of everything", Hannon mumbled with a sententious nod.
"The fumes of the sacrifices may not reach the High Heaven, but if our hearts are not pure, the darkness that emanates from them will raise higher than any wisp of smoke." Inziladûn stood up; there was passion in his voice as he addressed the Council now. "Let us prove our purity to Eru! We will re-establish the Holiest Days, and declare this a Year of Renewal."
"A Year of Renewal?" Bodashtart´s eyes widened. "But that hasn´t happened since..."
"Ar-Abattarîk." Inziladûn replied. "He declared a Year of Renewal after the defeat of the Umbarian troops in Harad, during the tenth year of his reign. Ceremonies were conducted, prisoners were freed, exiles were recalled and debts were condoned. "Some slanderous tongues had insinuated that this last thing had been largely at the root of his decision. Soon there would be slanderous tongues second-guessing his own decision, too, and Inziladûn guessed what they would be saying.
"Can we allow ourselves such a luxury?" Gimilkhâd spoke for the first time. At his side, the representatives from Umbar and Gadir did not look pleased, and a low rumble of murmurations began spreading through the Hall like fire.
"We do not speak of luxury when we seek the favour of Heaven," Zakarbal argued. "Without it we are nothing, and all our enterprises are doomed to fail!"
"Heaven may favour us better if we help ourselves," the governor of Sor muttered rebelliously. Magon´s nephew, who hadn´t spoken since the exchange about unrest in the Gadir area, now knitted his forehead in a golden frown.
"Will the Exiles be allowed to return to their land?"
Inziladûn did not lower his glance, though the grip of his fingers on the table became stronger.
"The governor of Sor has complained many times to the late king about the rabble that crowds his lands. This would be an opportunity to lighten the load."
"But then, "Bodashtart´s eyes widened in growing realization "would those exiles be allowed to return to the Andustar? That land falls under the jurisdiction of the Cave!"
"There is an imbalance in this island. "Inziladûn´s voice was raised above the turmoil. He had not expected to be challenged so strongly or so soon, but the Merchant Prince from Gadir had known when and where to strike with a shrewdness that belied his youth. Just like his uncle and predecessor, he was a force to be reckoned with. "For many years now, the East has been overpopulated, while the West is empty. In the East, many people suffer from shortages of food and cannot find employment, but in the West there are not enough hands to till fertile lands that lie abandoned and produce nothing. If the Exiles return to their former homes, both the Cave and the Governor would be better served, and the civil strife that caused so much pain and destruction will finally become a thing of the past. Would that not please Eru and the gods, and be beneficial to Númenor?"
"This sounds very inspiring." Gimilkhâd´s mouth curved in a grimace that seemed to indicate the very opposite. "But there is a reason why those people were exiled. The late king Ar-Sakalthôr, in his great mercy, tried to bridge this chasm and allowed them to return for a while, and instead of abandoning their former purposes they committed treason again. They have fallen too deep in thrall to the sorcery of the Demons of the West, and their servants the Elves." Some people murmured their assent. "What makes you think that this time would be different?"
Inziladûn had purposefully avoided addressing the issue of the return of the Andúnië line, and yet it was on the table now. He bit his lip, to smother a shuddering sigh of frustration.
"I spoke of a Year of Renewal, and the recall of all the exiles. Those people have lived as beggars in the East since the time of Ar-Adunakhôr for a crime committed by their ancestors, and have never been given the chance to prove their own loyalty by any of the later kings. They were not recalled, and therefore they are not guilty of what you accuse them of. But since you have raised the issue of the Lord of Andúniê and his family, who are also exiles and would be similarly affected by this decree... "He paused for a moment, and realized belatedly that the whole Council had fallen silent, hanging on his every word. "I am aware of their second exile, and of the concerns that their loyalties pose for some of you. They must be allowed to return to their lands, for exceptions cannot be made. Moreover, they are my kin on my mother´s side, and I will not be their enemy. But they will not be allowed to rule in the Andustar, or to be part of this Council."
The murmurations returned, but for the first time Inziladûn could perceive surprise, even shock, in the faces of Gimilkhâd, the governor and the merchants.
"Will you hold to your word in this?" his brother asked, after a few exchanged glances. Lord Zakarbal stood up in indignation.
"How dare you talk to the King in this strain?"
Gimilkhâd´s mouth opened as if to reply, but the merchant of Gadir touched his arm in a calming gesture. As he looked around him, he became aware of the disapproval in the eyes of the others, and looked down sullenly. Inziladûn breathed in relief.
"Are there any other objections?" he asked, letting his glance trail over the other Council members. One of them did not turn away.
"My lord King," said the High Priest of Melkor, laboriously gathering the folds of his purple cloak over his lap. Inziladûn, who had remarked his long silence, nodded and waited for the attack. "The Year of Renewal is of great concern for the gods of Númenor."
"This will require great expenses from the Sceptre and the Great Temples. On the greatest ocassions, a sacrifice of a hundred bulls is called for, carried in attendance of the King and Council and with the highest solemnity." For a moment, the old man´s eyes narrowed, and his look became probing. "We request the King´s help in these matters."
Inziladûn noticed again that particular silence that had fallen over the Council when he spoke of the Lord of Andúnië. Everybody was waiting for his reaction to this. It would be repeated, dissected, torn apart and analyzed in corridor whispers, and heated after-dinner debates.
And he, he thought in grim purpose, would provide them with plenty to talk about.
"You will have it, Your Holiness."
Zakarbal stared at him incredulously.
* * * * *
There were two fountains in the garden beyond the gallery. One of them stood at its centre, and there a jet of water flowed from a sculpted mermaid´s lavish mane. It ran through an open stone channel and filled a basin where water-lilies floated lazily; at its lower end the water was freed again through the fangs of a sea-dragon and gurgled as it was seeped down a hole to fill the reservoirs of the Palace. Inziladûn had once studied the complicated system through which water would oscillate between the upper and lower levels of the Palace, and always come back, renewed, to fill the gap it had left. Maharbal, his old tutor from Umbar, had compared it with the oscillation of the waters of the earth, which all flowed from the same pit and were fated to return to it in a neverending circle. The Palace had been built as an image of the world, and in imitation of its laws, so a ruler could see them and understand them. Prideful vanity, he had thought years later, that led the King of Númenor to believe that he could decipher all the secrets of the Creation and replicate them by the hand of Men.
Once, he remembered, he had shared his opinion with Maharbal, who stared back at him gravely. Inziladûn had thought for a moment that the old man disapproved, but after a while the frown disappeared from the dark, weather-beaten forehead, leaving nothing but a strange wistfulness in its wake. Vanity is what led the King of Númenor to believe that he could know Númenor without setting foot outside the Palace, he had said. And vanity is what leads the Númenoreans to believe that they can know the world without setting foot outside Númenor.
This had been many years after Inziladûn outgrew his lessons, and Maharbal had been nearing the end of his days. At the time, Inziladûn had already shared many confidences with him, dangerous secrets and discoveries that he could not keep locked within his chest for fear that it would burst, but it was the first time that Maharbal shed his mantle of indulgent wisdom and paid him back in kind. Inziladûn had been surprised, and for a moment, behind the torn veil of the unshakeable sage, he had glimpsed the bitterness of this Umbarian of mixed parentage.
The subject had not been pursued further, but Inziladûn had thought about it for a long time, even after Maharbal had left the world. For he knew about mixed parentage, and he had never before considered that the old man could have understood his feelings, or felt drawn to him for that reason. Now, standing again on the spot where the falling waters drowned the echoes of compromising conversations, his eyes fixed on the sea-dragon´s large mouth as the excited voice of Lord Zakarbal filled his ears, the remembrances brought a painful shudder that he hid behind his purple cloak.
"My lord, they did not only extract from you a pledge to act against your allies, your own mother´s kin, but emboldened with that they made you promise to sacrifice in their altars! How could you countenance and bow to their unbridled arrogance? They have piled heap upon heap of gold, which they stole from the rightful lords of Númenor, and won the hearts of the people through superstition and false promises. Will you let them take what is due the King, too? Will you let them rule the Council and steal your Sceptre?"
""They" are not the same people", he answered mechanically. "There are the merchants and there are the governors and there are the priests."
"But they all lick your brother´s heels!"
"Or he licks theirs." Inziladûn´s brow furrowed wistfully. Behind the mermaid fountain, Zimraphel was playing a game of matching shells with two other women; she looked happy today. "The Council wields great power, and I cannot force them to accept changes that threaten their privileges without offering anything in return. I will not put them against me from the first year of my reign."
"The Council does not rule! It only advises", his brother-in-law replied with vehemence. "That is how it has always been."
"And yet it is not possible to rule without the Council. That is how it has always been, too." He was growing a little impatient, and his voice came out with a slight edge. How could Zakarbal not understand? He had been in the Council for years, unlike Inziladûn, who had not set foot in it since his brief foray as his father´s secretary. "Remember its history. Kings who have faced opposition have always taken a great interest in reforming the Council and opening it to their allies. They have tried to control it, and this is a matter of uttermost importance, for it is vital for them that they can rule with its support."
He did remember the history of the Council, having studied it quite thoroughly. Much had changed since it had been known as the Council of the Six, and only the five great landholders of the time -those who ruled the peripheral territories that lay beyond the Land of the King- together with the heir to the Sceptre were allowed to sit on it. The privilege of being a councilman was passed from father to son for generation after generation, until their lineages were too old and proud to be suffered by the strongwilled later kings.
But it hadn´t been until Ar-Adunakhôr that the opportunity to remove this opposition had arisen, and they had offered it to the King themselves when they rose in support of Alissha. After the war, the lineage of Hyarrostar was broken, and the lords of Andúnië exiled to the East and disposessed. Their territories were given to men of no ancestry, loyal to the King alone, who had been allowed to gain seats at the Council as Governor of Sor and High Priest of the Forbidden Bay. The High Priest of Melkor was also invited to join the Council, and this none dared oppose, so great had the influence of the Great God become by that time. His seat was taken from Ar-Adunakhôr´s own heir, who had died in exile on the mainland some years later. The Lord of the West, like so many of his descendants, had never been inclined to trust his own family.
Adunakhôr had thus balanced the three seats of the landholders with three of his own making, who would favour his interests, but he had been careful not to alter their number and, with it, the appearance of tradition. His sucessor Ar-Zimrathôn, however, who had to contend with the growing pride of the surviving landholders, for whom the downfall of their allies in the war and the fear for their own lives was but a distant memory, had foregone that concern, adding two seats for courtiers to break the balance. In Ar-Sakalthôr´s time the Lord of Andúnië came back for a while, and since there was no chair to spare they made it the Council of the Nine. Eventually, Ar-Gimilzôr had banished Lord Valandil and given his place to his son Gimilkhâd, as Inziladûn was "the heir and had no need to be in the Council, who were advisors to the realm". In a move that had garnered more discontent than any of the other changes ever made, he also opened the Council to the Merchant Princes, giving them three seats. He seemed determined to leave things as difficult as possible for his son, and brooked no opposition, going as far as to marry his own son to a merchant´s daughter to legitimate the manouevre. Inziladûn had found that he had to contend with them quite as bitterly as with the priests and the men that held the lands taken from his kin in the past, and though he was King, he was, for the first time since his great-great-grandsire, outnumbered. Only a deep alliance with the three landholders and a tenuous one with the courtiers had allowed him to keep his footing, and in such circumstances, trying to push his will through at the expense of the interests of the rest would have been madness.
"The Lord of Andúnië and his family, who were twice branded as traitors, will be able to return to their homes, and so will their people. They can recover their lands and rule them as before, as long as they pay tribute and defer to the Cave, who holds sway over the region."
"That is an insult", Zakarbal hissed. As a landholder from an ancient family, he probably felt the indignity of kneeling to an appointee as keenly as if it had been inflicted upon himself.
"I would rather have people and means without honour than being honoured in the realm while having none of those", Inziladûn retorted, remembering the travesty of friendship that Gimilzôr had offered them in the years of Sakalthôr´s reign. He recalled Andúnië as it had been back then, a deserted harbour and a family walking through empty halls full of ghosts. "They will have plenty of chances to prove their loyalty in the future. And in any case it is a better fate than being prisoners of the Merchant Princes."
"And what of the sacrifices to Melkor? "Zakarbal´s displeasure was not so easily quenched. "Is that the message that you want to send to the Council and the commoners? That you will bow to the Dark Lord?"
With the zeal of the new believer, the Lord of Sorontil had embraced the teachings of the Valar and abandoned the old worship of his family. It was all Inziladûn had been able to do to prevent his enthusiastic brother-in-law from getting in trouble with the Sceptre and with his own people in the last years.
"The people worship Melkor. They will still worship Melkor if the King tells them not to, even if that were possible, because their hearts are turned towards him", Inziladûn explained. Zimraphel raised her eyes from the scattered shells; as the sun kissed her face he was reminded with a sharp pang of how much she ressembled his mother. "But the Valar and Melkor have something in common."
Zakarbal looked disgusted.
"Something in common? What could the Lords of the West have in common with that... filthy demon of darkness?"
"That they are all the children of Eru." Silence followed those words, broken only by the sound of running water and the voices of the women in the distance. "All who honour the Valar and all that worship Melkor alike acknowledge him as Creator. That is why the worship of Eru in the Meneltarma and the Year of Renewal will become a link to join the people of Númenor and make them come together in the truest and holiest of beliefs." His voice became vibrant, as frustration was forced out from his chest. "And this they approved, without debate, without opposition, all in exchange for a few bulls and some gold."
Zakarbal frowned, in a way that Inziladûn was not sure if he understood the real import of this or not. Then, reluctantly, he nodded.
"I am sure you know what is best. My lord King."
In the garden, Zimraphel laughed.
* * * * *
The balcony of Magon´s house oversaw the channel that cut the island of Gadir in half. From that vantage point, one could see boats and painted barges floating heavily down the quiet waters, vendors coming and going through the sidewalks peddling merchandise, and rich citizens performing the ritual of the afternoon walk in their best clothes. Nothing seemed amiss in this strange city, where people kept to their own, outlandish routines as one King fell to darkness and another took the Sceptre at the roots of the Meneltarma. Still, those political developments were not just stories from far away: they affected this small island just as it affected the larger one beyond the Sea. The appearance of calm was but an illusion, which was something he had learned while living in this house, and attending to endless and tedious dinners where deals were made over desserts and lands parceled out and distributed without the help of sword or shield. Things happened here, they only happened in a different way.
"You sure came back quickly", he told the footsteps that advanced towards him through the small but lavishly ornated room. They stopped.
"Our ships are swift like the wind. Not like those war galleys of yours, which have to be kept outside the Bay for fear they will founder."
Pharazôn turned back to meet the smirk in the golden face. Magon-nephew-of-Magon had just barely arrived from his trip across the Sea, and he hadn´t yet taken off his travelling clothes, which exuded a faint tang of salt.
"I thought you might have had to flee Númenor", Pharazôn joked. The other man did not laugh.
"Not yet." He sat down with relish, as if he had been on his feet for days, and called for wine. A young woman, her skin dark like those of the Umbarians, tiptoed in with a jar and two cups.
"You do not look happy", the Númenorean prince started, pouring his cup before anybody could do it for him and draining it in one go. "What did my uncle say?"
"Oh, many things. He wants to begin his reign with plenty of reforms, processions and sacrifices." The merchant took a careful sip through his painted lips, looking thoughtfully ahead. "He will also recall all the Andúnië exiles."
"What?" Pharazôn almost let his empty cup fall on the lacquered table. "How?"
"Year of Renewal. The past does not matter anymore, only our purity before the Creator. "Magon shrugged. "Your father was beside himself when I left him. He said that those traitors couldn´t be allowed to recover their lands, but we are more worried about them recovering their ships."
"Surely they can´t compete with you on that department!"
Pharazôn tried to pick up the jar again, but the Gadirite beat him to it.
"Hundreds of years ago, when Andúnië was at the peak of its power, it was said that if all their ships were to be put on line, they could form a bridge between Númenor and the mainland. It was their fleet that blocked Ar-Adunakhôr´s troops from Umbar and almost delivered the victory to Alissha the Usurper."
"And even then they couldn´t take over. What chance do they have now? If they are clever, they will have learned from their mistakes", Pharazôn shrugged. Magon frowned.
"That was a mistake. Their interest in this area wasn´t. It gave them an enormous wealth in silver and silver steel, and made them the richest landholders in Númenor. Some say they were richer than the Kings themselves."
"Do you mean that they used to have interests here? In the Bay of Gadir?"
"They built settlements along the coast, of which the most important lay at the mouth of the Great River, and made deals with Elves and Dwarves and all kinds of enemies to the Sceptre", Magon explained. "If we allow them to set foot here again, our city will be ruined. So will our associates in Sor, and maybe Sor itself. We must not allow them to rebuild their former strength." His usually suave voice acquired a brief tinge of steel. "Azzibal tells me that Lord Valandil is still hale, but that old age will catch up with him soon, and his heir Númendil is no match for us. But Númendil had a son, which was taken away from them when he was a child. He was a priest for a while, and then it was said that he had taken ship for Middle-Earth, which is the last anybody knows about him. The King is looking for him now, but we must beat him to it."
Pharazôn turned towards the balcony abruptly, wiping his forehead with his fist.
"Do you merchants ever do anything honourably?"
"We must do what is necessary to protect ourselves. Honour is something we will never have in their eyes, since they were born from high and mighty lineages and we weren´t, so we may as well forget about it", Magon replied without batting an eyelash. When he saw that Pharazôn was going to leave the room, however, he put the cup down and stood up. "My lord prince!"
"Now, that´s unusual." Pharazôn stopped in his tracks, forcing himself to swallow his impatience. This man wasn´t the son of Magon the Older, his powerful grandfather, but one of his nephews, and still he had been named after him and inherited his every business to the last coin. Merchants did not understand the rules of inheritance of noble families, choosing nephews, cousins, in-laws or even associates to be their heirs if they showed the greater promise. If this man had been selected over all others to take the late Magon´s place, then he wasn´t someone to fool around with.
"The King has been led to believe that there is unrest in the area", he said, standing up from his own chair and walking towards where Pharazôn stood. "We must not draw his attention towards us."
"Meaning what?" The prince shrugged. "It´s not unrest what I dealt with upstream; I believe the word would be war. The tribes..."
"There is no need to deal with them directly. There is always a neighbour who can do the job for us, if we know how to press him", Magon explained. Pharazôn started to open his mouth, but the Gadirite beat him to it. "You are the greatest general in Númenor, but whenever you make the slightest move the whole world hears about it. We cannot afford to have the King´s eye fixed on us, or he and his friends may find an excuse to interfere in the Bay."
"So you are asking me to be an idle guest in your house." Pharazôn´s eyes narrowed. How dare they be so ungrateful?
"You are no mere guest. You are a prince of Númenor! You are welcome to our council, to the meetings of our associates...."
"I am not interested in your manouevres", Pharazôn cut him, this time crossing the threshold without stopping. Behind his back, he could hear his cousin sigh.
"Tell Adherbal that I´m going whoring with him tonight", he said to the first servant he met on the corridor on the way to his quarters.
* * * * *
"Of course I know someone." The old general nodded, unable to hide his puzzlement as he picked up the branch of grapes offered to him by a woman with red-dyed hair and scant clothes. "All discretion. My own son-in-law. But may I ask why the secrecy?"
Pharazôn shook his head with a grimace. The wine had started getting to his head, but not enough to veil his lucidity.
"The merchants, "he spat. "The King is looking for this man, and if they should learn that I know about his whereabouts they will try to get to him first to curry favour with the Sceptre. I won´t deliver such a prize to them. They may be my mother´s family, but they are ungrateful bastards."
"Aye, so they are." Adherbal scowled. He had not taken very well to the news that Magon did not appreciate their "interference". "Rest assured, my lord, he will be heading for the Middle Havens by tomorrow and those fat peacocks won´t know what hit them."
"Be careful. He must travel alone, and..." Pharazôn frowned, thinking furiously. "Scratch that. He will be taking a crew and going with one of the smaller ships. Tell them that it needs repairing; they don´t have war shipyards in the Bay. Once they find him, put him on the ship and get him to Númenor directly."
"Very well, my lord." Adherbal waved the woman away as she pushed the curtain to deliver more drink. "I wonder why would the King be looking for Hannishtart, though. He is a brave soldier. Maybe the Cave is wanting him back?"
Pharazôn picked a grape and let it burst inside his mouth.
"I´m not sure. I think his grandfather has become an important lord, or something, and they need him back in Sor."
Adherbal nodded, mulling in silence over this surprising news.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.